Nottingham Forest's Roy Keane and his team manager Brian Clough receive awards prior to kick-off against Norwich City at City Ground, Nottingham, March 1992.

An ode to the Brian Clough punch that sealed Roy Keane’s devotion

Can I just shock you; Roy Keane and Sir Alex Ferguson are no longer friends.

Yes, the most successful manager-captain duo of the Premier League era fell out during Keane’s explosive departure from Manchester United in 2005 and will probably take their differences to the grave.

“I wouldn’t forgive Ferguson,” Keane told Off The Ball in 2019. “The media spin, how I apparently upset everybody, it was all nonsense. I don’t care if it’s Alex Ferguson or the Pope, you’re going to defend yourself.”

Keane also played down Ferguson’s famed man-management style in the interview and threw doubt on whether he had the best interests of the club at heart.

“People talk about Ferguson’s man-management. Nonsense. People said he always had the best interests of Manchester United at heart. Darren Ferguson [his son] won a medal. He was very lucky.”

Ferguson himself criticised Keane in his autobiography, discussing that MUTV incident in detail.

“The meeting in the room was horrendous. I just could not lose my control in that situation. If I had let it pass I think the players would have viewed me differently.

“Throughout my career I have been strong enough to deal with issues like that. Roy absolutely overstepped the line. There was nothing else we could do.”

While both men would rather commit a felony than reconcile, Keane has taken to publicly praising the other managerial great that shaped his playing career; Brian Clough

Clough gave Keane his first taste of English football with Nottingham Forest when he signed the Irishman for £47,000 from Cobh Ramblers in 1990.

”I remember, [Brian] Clough came to me during my earlier years at Nottingham Forest,” Keane once recalled.

“He calls me in before one of my first games and he says: ‘you can pass it, you can shoot and you can run – so just do those three things’. As silly as it sounds, a lot of players can’t do all three, so that’s when I knew I had that going for me!”

Clough’s affection for Keane was clear and his footballing brain was clear, according to Nick Miller of FourFourTwo. ‘On an occasion when Clough was in one of his more irascible moods, he stalked around the dressing room offering a different insult to every player,’ he wrote.

‘Accusations of laziness and complacency were tossed around, while he told goalkeeper and staunch Yorkshireman Mark Crossley to ‘buy a house in Nottingham or fuck off and play for Barnsley’.

‘When he reached Keane, Clough said: “I love you, Irishman.”‘

While the former Republic of Ireland midfielder was a firm favourite during his three-year spell at Forest, he felt Clough’s wrath after under-hitting a back pass during an FA Cup clash with Crystal Palace in 1991.

An outraged Clough floored his player with a punch in the dressing room and demanded he never repeat such an action. In fairness, it was a terrible backpass and Roy should feel outraged at having failed to do his job.

Legendary Forest goalkeeper Mark Crossley, who was compromised by Keane’s backpass, recounted the story during a talkSPORT interview in 2020.

“The one story that is true with Roy is, we played Crystal Palace in a cup game at home and he gave me a short back pass.

“I mis-kicked it and then John Salako chipped me from the halfway line, which took the game to a replay – 3-3 in the last minute.

“Cloughy was waiting in the dressing room for Keano, because Roy used to sprint off the pitch and he was always the first one in after a game.

“But the gaffer was hiding behind the door – out his steps and he punches Roy in the stomach and says: ‘Don’t ever pass the ball back to my goalkeeper, young man’.

“It was actually my fault, but he punched Keano and I think that was just his way of letting him know, I’m the gaffer and you do as I say”.

Even Keane, who has never knowingly been shy in standing up for himself, knew better than to retaliate towards Clough.

“Did I take it that badly? No. He was a genius,” the former midfielder said in a 2019 interview.

“He was upset, he was heated and he punched me. I remember thinking, ‘I still think you’re a brilliant manager’.

“I came in the next day and I trained and I didn’t text anyone in the media or ring somebody or go on WhatsApp and Twitter, whatever they go on, saying ‘somebody punched me.’”

Despite Clough’s brilliance, he could not stop Forest’s relegation to the second tier in 1993, which led to Keane joining Manchester United for a then-British record £3.75million fee.

Keane went on to win seven Premier League titles, four FA Cups and a Champions League in a glittering 12-year spell at Old Trafford, but the role Clough played in his development should never be forgotten.

Speaking to The Athletic, former Forest defender Brian Laws recalled another night when Clough put a young Roy in his place.

“Roy was getting a bit cocky; he came back a little bit chirpy,” Laws revealed about one night out. “Cloughie was in the foyer of the hotel, waiting. He wanted to bring him down a peg or two.

So he gave him a punch and then sent him home. To be fair to Roy, he took it. He didn’t fight back. He respected him, it was like his dad had given him a bit of a hiding.

He stepped out of line, went too far and got himself a clip around the ear for it. I think he understood that he deserved it.”

So much respect, in fact, that Keane took a jab to the belly and ended up loving Clough more. Perhaps Ferguson should’ve tried something similar.

By Michael Lee

READ NEXT: The story of Brian Clough’s first NYE as a manager: The beach, booze & a beating

TRY A QUIZ: Can you name every club to win the Champions League/European Cup?